Flowers, dinner, even a trip to the spa. These are all mighty popular gifts when it comes to Mother’s Day. But as a single, working mother of two, what I want isn’t so tangible; I desire something far more elusive.
As a mom, I want a life free of guilt and full of love.
Recently basketball great Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder delivered a powerful and emotional Most Valuable Player acceptance speech, giving the real MVP credit to his mom.
It is a declaration that has resonated deeply with millions. I can only dream of the day that my sons will declare something similar.
However, MVP status is earned, not awarded. It is time for me to procure that title and become a More Valuable Parent.
For 11 years I have struggled with the parental paradox of being a working mother. I love being with my boys, but I also love my career. I graduated college and got married all in the same weekend. Having a career was always part of my and our life plan.
For 14 years I worked in television news: reporting, anchoring the morning show and co-hosting the Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show Good Things Utah at the ABC affiliate in Salt Lake City.
The hours were grueling. I woke up at 2:30 a.m. each morning to be in by 3:30 a.m. I did five-and-a-half hours of live TV five days a week, and then stayed until late in the afternoon putting together stories for the evening news. The 10- to 12-hour days were long and draining, but I loved it.
Along the way, I gave birth to two amazing sons. After eight weeks of maternity leave with each of them, we made the difficult decision to put them in daycare. We felt that we could juggle our careers and our mission as parents.
My heart dropped every time I left my babies in the arms of our cherished daycare providers. I knew they were being nurtured and that they would get vital socialization, but I felt flat-out guilty each day I headed to work.
I could not be in two places at once, physically or mentally.
Because of my demanding career, I was absent for a lot of mini-milestones. I missed some school programs and a few sports games. And the guilt stacked up.
Picking up the Pieces
Ten years into our marriage, my husband and I divorced. It was utterly devastating. I found myself in a scary, foreign world of single motherhood and I’d never been so grateful to have my career in tact.
At least I would not have to worry about providing for my children financially. I would be able to put a roof over their heads, feed them and even have some fun.
But again, I felt the constant pressure of missing my boys’ journeys as I worked to pay for their pilgrimage.
Big Career Change
I was exhausted all the time. I justified my parenting with the motto of quality over quantity, yet that did not alleviate the compounding guilt. So I made a career change.
I gave up the demanding world of television for a more family-friendly corporate gig. I now run the Public Relations Department at USANA Health Sciences. It was the best decision I have ever made for my little family.
I still have a fulfilling, exciting career, but with a company that supports and celebrates family life. The soul-crushing vice of missing it all has subsided into a minor nagging of missing some.
As a working mom, I still don’t witness some of my children’s magical moments, but I have found a much better balance.
Now I can attend many of my boys’ school events, yet there I see an army of moms volunteering in the classrooms and with the PTA and I feel myself heading down the path of blame again.
I should be one of those moms. I should plan the class Halloween party. I should have a plate of fresh baked cookies and carrot sticks ready for my kids as they burst through the front door.
But I am stretched to the limit. I work full-time, I am committed to several volunteer endeavors and I raise two boys. I am constantly running from work to football to soccer to the library to piano lessons to scouts and birthday parties.
I do dinner and homework and projects and when it’s time to hit the pillow, I wonder if in all that running around, am I making a positive difference in the lives of my children? Am I doing enough? Am I doing what really matters? When I look at my children, I know I am.
Motherhood is Not a Competition
As women, we put so much pressure on ourselves, and inadvertently on each other, to be perfect. Motherhood is not a competition, it’s a calling. It is an ever-evolving endeavor in which we sometimes fall short of the mark, sometimes we exceed it and other times were merely maintain it.
However, focusing on our failures and the things we could be doing better, comparing ourselves to other moms and ideals will only lead us to a downward spiral of inadequacy.
That’s why my gift to myself this Mother’s Day is absolution, a parental pardon if you will.
I am going to turn my attention to the things I am doing well. My boys are happy and healthy, independent and resilient.
They have faced all of our many life challenges and disappointments with me and have come out the other side stronger and more prepared for what is yet to come.
I have given them tools to succeed. I have led by example, showing them how to navigate the ups and downs.
I make our moments count. We have mommy-son date nights, family outings and chore wars. We turn homework into information treasure quests and go on biking adventures.
And of course we get in as much snuggle time as two pre-teens will tolerate.
Becoming an MVP
Whether we are mothers who work in or outside the home, we all share in the responsibility: to raise and teach the next generation.
Judgements and ridicule, be it for ourselves or others will not help us a achieve our More Valuable Parent goals.
We have to be accountable for our choices as mothers, but not critical. Build a business. Build a family. But take the erosive power of self-doubt out of the equation and replace it with love.
Love will always fill the guilt gap.
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